Plucking & hissing in Bethel Park

Plucking & hissing in Bethel Park

“Prudence in taxation” is not a phrase we often use around Western Pennsylvania. But it is appropriate to apply to the action of the Bethel Park School District at its recent school board meeting.

As the Post-Gazette reports, school directors voted June 25 to reduce the district’s tax millage rate, from 22.8763 to 21 mills. That’s an 8.2 percent millage drop.

The net reduction of 1.87 mills means that property owners in the South Hills community will pay about $2,100 for every $100,000 of assessed property value.

That translates into an annual savings of $187 for every $100,000 in assessed value.

And how did Bethel Park school directors manage to accomplish such a taxpayer-friendly feat? With a fund balance of about $20 million, it decided it could draw down the amount by between $4.5 million and $5 million and still maintain an acceptable cushion that allows it to meet pending obligations.

A government entity returning tax dollars whence they came is the kind of sound public policy whose practice, and practitioners, are a rare commodity indeed.

Predictably, no good deed goes unpunished. As The Almanac newspaper reported, the three school directors who voted against the tax cut allege “politics” is involved and claim the majority made its decision in possible violation of the Sunshine Act.

And, as the P-G further reports, the Bethel Park Federation of Teachers is outraged because the tax cut will, for now, preclude the hiring of more staff.

Translation: More union members, “for the kids,” one must understand. Ahem.

It was in 1665 (or thereabouts) that France’s Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who served as King Louie XIV’s finance minister, is reported to have famously said:

“The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the least possible amount of hissing.”

But in Bethel Park, it appears the art of school taxation now consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the least number of feathers with the most possible spendthrift hissing.

And that’s hardly a bad thing.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).